Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is chronic digestive condition. Common symptoms include:
IBS is different from other bowel disorders, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, because it does not change any of the bowel tissue.
An estimated 10 to 15 percent of adults experience IBS at some point in their lives, but only half of those are diagnosed.
Being aware of the causes and risk factors for IBS may help you reduce the frequency of outbreaks and take steps toward prevention.
Causes of IBS
Doctors still don’t fully understand what causes IBS. Most believe it’s the result of a combination of physical and mental health factors. Some issues believed to cause an IBS flare-up include the following.
Brain-Gut Signal Problems
Messages from the brain to the intestines that aren’t sent or received properly could cause the intestines to work improperly during the digestive process. This may result in IBS symptoms.
GI Motor Issues
The colon’s ability to move during digestion may be too slow — causing constipation — or too fast — causing diarrhea.
Someone with a lower pain threshold may feel the pain of bloating or cramping more than someone with a higher pain threshold.
Mental Health Problems
Stress can often aggravate physical ailments and IBS is no exception. Many doctors suspect a link between panic attacks or depression and IBS. However, whether mental health causes physical symptoms or simply exacerbates them is not known.
A bacterial infection within the intestines may lead to IBS symptoms.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Change
A change in the types of bacteria within the small intestine has been shown in some studies to cause excess flatulence and diarrhea.
Many women typically experience worsened IBS symptoms during their menstrual period. This leads some experts to believe there’s a connection between reproductive hormones and bowel problems. This theory is supported by evidence that many women also experience fewer IBS symptoms after menopause.
It’s possible that IBS runs in families. However, whether this is due to a genetic link or to shared environmental factors remains unclear.
Perhaps the most widely known IBS trigger is sensitivity to certain foods. Just as some people find that migraines tend to occur after eating particular foods, some people find that their intestinal distress increases with certain food intake.
Common problem-causing foods include:
overly fatty foods
It’s thought that the intestines may be unable to properly absorb certain components of these foods.
Certain demographics have been found to be more susceptible to IBS symptoms, including:
People who are less than 45 years old
People with a family history of IBS
Researchers are still trying to figure out what exactly causes IBS. The condition is chronic, but lifestyle and diet changes as well as certain prescription medications can help you manage your symptoms.
Talk to your doctor if you’re having any IBS symptoms. They may be related to IBS, but it’s important to make sure they’re not related to a more serious condition. You should learn as much about IBS as you can if you’ve been diagnosed with it. Being knowledgeable about your condition will help you make better decisions for your care.
No one wants to have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but if you take some preventive measures, you may be able to avoid it. Stress, anxiety, or eating and drinking the wrong things can cause digestive problems. You can find long-term solutions by making some simple changes in how you respond to stress and paying attention to your diet, nutrition, and lifestyle.
Take a look at these seven tips to keep your flare-ups at bay.
Tip 1: Manage Your Stress
Stress-related symptoms—like abdominal pain and bloating—occur more often and more intensely in people with IBS. Managing the stress in your life is important in avoiding flare-ups.
There are several effective methods for stress management that can improve IBS symptoms, including deep breathing and yoga. The secret is to breathe from your diaphragm, not your chest, to relax your abdominal muscles. Doing so can lead to more regular bowel activity.
Tip 2: Relax Progressively
Another stress soother is called progressive relaxation, or Jacobson’s relaxation technique. Relaxing the muscles in your body can help alleviate an upset stomach.
To use this form of relaxation, start by tensing and then relaxing the muscles in your feet. Then move your way up through your calves, thighs, abdomen, arms, and each main muscle group in your body, ending with your face and scalp. Concentrate on releasing all of the tension in each body part as you go.
Tip 3: Try Counseling
Don’t be afraid to seek outside help! In counseling, a psychiatrist helps you beat stress by examining how you respond to life events, and guiding you toward more effective responses.
Tip 4: Think About Biofeedback
Biofeedback is built on the concept of “mind over matter.” During this type of therapy, a machine helps slow your heart rate and reduce muscle tension. It also teaches you how to make these changes yourself.
Tip 5: Find More Fiber
In addition to stress management techniques, tweaking your diet can also help prevent IBS. One of the most common ways is to incorporate more fiber into your meals.
However, while dietary fiber can ease some gastrointestinal symptoms (like constipation), it can make other symptoms worse (like gas and cramping). To minimize potential problems, try a gradual increase of fiber over the course of a few weeks.
Tip 6: Steer Clear of These Foods
Certain foods are known to make IBS symptoms worse. Watch what makes your own symptoms worse, and avoid those products.
Some common culprits include:
sugar-free sweeteners (such as sorbitol or mannitol)
Some people also have trouble with dairy. You can try substituting yogurt for milk, or decreasing the quantity of dairy products you consume. Other things that might work are breaking down lactose with an enzyme product, or combining dairy with other foods.
Tip 7: Drink Right
While drinking enough fluids each day helps IBS symptoms, not all fluids have the same effect on your stomach. Water soothes stomach distress, but several other beverages can cause problems, including:
coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks
carbonated drinks like soda
Alcohol and drinks with caffeine may make diarrhea worse. Soda and other drinks with carbonation can cause gas.
While these seven tips may not always bring instant relief, they can result in long-term solutions over time. Try different techniques to ease your stress and improve your diet to relieve your IBS symptoms. You can help to control your condition by making healthy choices.